Tennessee Boys Get Inauguration Tix in Christmas Loot

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Two young brothers got a Christmas surprise that few can lay claim to -- a pair of tickets to President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration.

The boys, 13-year-old Marcus Branch and his 8-year-old brother Myles, from Bartlett, Tenn., received the tickets as a gift from their grandmother, Shirley Mason.

"I wanted them to get an invitation, to have the presidential inauguration invitation that they could put in their memory books," Mason said. "I was hoping, but you never know."

Long before the first ballots were cast, Mason sent a letter to U.S. Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), asking for tickets to the 56th Presidential Inauguration. Mason included her name, and the names of her daughter and son-in-law, Sonji and Anthony Branch, and their children, Marcus and Myles.

"We knew this was going to be a historic election, one way or the other," Mason said of her early bid for tickets.

Mason didn't know just how long a shot it would be getting tickets to the swearing-in of the country's first black chief executive. Congressional offices have been swamped with requests for the 240,000 free tickets to the swearing-in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Each congressman is allotted fewer than 200 tickets to distribute, but the requests have far outpaced those numbers.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen's office had received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests before setting Nov. 14 as its deadline. Tanner's office reported receiving 1,200 through that date, when it stopped taking requests. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn's office reported 1,005 requests and U.S. Rep. Travis Childers' about 500.

"Congressman Tanner was amazed that so many people wanted to come up for that historic moment" said Randy Ford, Tanner's communications director.

Ford said the tickets were allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Those without tickets will be able to view the swearing-in on large screens on and around the National Mall. No tickets are required for the inauguration parade that afternoon.

Mason said notification that the family had been selected came in the mail Tuesday, just in time for Christmas. The family must pick up their tickets at Tanner's Washington office on the day before the inauguration.

"I'm really excited," said Marcus, described by his parents as politically informed and involved. "Just to be there in the midst of it all will be great."

Marcus' dad, Anthony Branch, said the bigger lesson in this journey is about being a part of history.

"I hope that when they get back, that the experience will stay with them forever," said Anthony Branch, "just letting them know that this country has never seen an African-American stand before the country to be sworn in. His election was historic, but for the next four years, history will be made everyday."